Paso Robles, CA— Firestone Walker Brewing Company launched Easy Jack last year as a different kind of session IPA, one with surprising complexity fostered by a rare selection of newer hop varieties from around the world.
But the brewery learned the hard way what “rare” really meant when it launched Easy Jack as a summer seasonal—and then promptly ran out of the hops by mid-summer, spelling an early end to Easy Jack.
Now Firestone Walker is doubling down and re-launching Easy Jack in 2015 as a year-round release, and adding cans to the mix along the way.
The difference this time is that Brewmaster Matt Brynildson went the extra 5,000 miles to make sure he doesn’t run out of those crucial Easy Jack hops.
Indeed, during last September’s harvest season, Brynildson traveled to Germany and spent several days in the Hallertau region, the birthplace of hops dating back more than 1,000 years. There, he hung out at small family hop farms and worked with the farmers to secure an ample supply of Mandarina Bavaria and Hull Melon—two backbone hops for Easy Jack.
Brynildson said that Firestone Walker is the first American craft brewery to put such emphasis and weight behind these new German hop varieties.
“Mandarina and Melon are entirely unique, and there’s nothing grown in the U.S. that’s anything like them,” he said. “They have this classy European swagger. I first experienced a beer brewed with Mandarina in Germany a few years ago, and I knew immediately that I wanted to make it a centerpiece of our own session IPA. This trip was all about making sure we could continue to do that.”
The Book on Easy Jack: Hoofing It in Hallertau
Brynildson was so inspired by his travels that he penned a small pictorial book documenting the Hallertau hop scene’s distinctive blend of traditional culture and cutting-edge cultivation. A digital version of the book can be viewed here: www.firestonebeer.com/brewery/hops-of-easy-jack.php
By the end of the trip, Brynildson had visited numerous hop farms, all of them small multigenerational family operations run by fathers and sons. “I was overwhelmed by their hospitality,” he said. “Here’s this American craft brewer walking onto their land, and I wasn’t sure how receptive they’d be. But they genuinely wanted to bounce ideas around, and there was this profound sense that we’re all in this together, trying to get the most out of these up-and-coming hop varieties.”
So now Easy Jack is back, and better than ever. “We were making collaborative decisions that incrementally improved hops and ultimately the beer,” Brynildson said.
The Hops of Easy Jack
“With Easy Jack, we didn’t want to just make a miniaturized IPA,” Brynildson said. “When you dial down the malt and alcohol profiles to make an IPA sessionable, things can become bland and unfocused pretty quickly. The key for us was to find these hops that have full texture and flavor, while still bringing the fruity pop that you want from a true IPA.”
Mandarina Bavaria – Hallertau, Germany
“Mandarina is the defining hop of Easy Jack. It’s real orangy, zesty, like a fresh orange off the tree, which I’ve never smelled in any hop before.”
Hull Melon – Hallertau, Germany
“I call this the rhythm guitar. It has this melony, ripe tropical fruit characteristic that complements the citrus of the Mandarina.”
Southern Hemisphere Hops
“These hops are equally elusive as our prized Mandarina and Melon. We have begged, borrowed and traded…Yes, we literally traded 8 Wired Brewery in New Zealand an equal amount of Centennial and Amarillo hops for some fresh Nelson hops. The transaction was more complicated than any hop purchase I have ever made.”
Blend of U.S. Hops
“Mosaic provides a tropical vibe with herbal and pine notes, while Citra and Amarillo add complexity and dimension.”
Now in Cans
Easy Jack becomes one of the first Firestone beers to be canned, courtesy of the brewery’s new state-of-the-art canning line made by KHS, a leading packaging company based Dortmund, Germany. Easy Jack will also be available in bottles.
“Putting Easy Jack in cans was a no-brainer,” Brynildson said. “Cans are just fun, they’re light and easy to carry to the beach or a party or wherever. They’re a great fit for a session beer like this.”
Look for Easy Jack’s return starting now in markets across the United States.